By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T
COATESVILLE – In 1984, Father Thomas Doyle, who was then pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville, envisioned his parishioners doing more than just reciting the Stations of the Cross. He desired that they walk the road to Calvary with our Lord.
On Good Friday of that year, parishioners gathered just before noon in the school playground to begin a journey through town, carrying a simple wooden cross and a few guitars.
That tradition took on special significance this year, as Coatesville has borne its own cross. Residents have been plagued by a rash of arsons over the past two years that have claimed one life and destroyed much property along with a sense of security.
“In light of what our town has experienced, robbing us of the dignity of living without fear, we seek to show a genuine front of solidarity and ask our heavenly Father to bless us and put an end to this terror,” said Father Francis J. Mulranen, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish.
Over the years, St. Cecilia’s parishioners, both English and Spanish-speaking, have been joined in their Good Friday walk by members of Coatesville’s other three Catholic parishes – St. Stanislaus Kostka, Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Joseph.
These Stations of the Cross also grew into an ecumenical gathering as Christians from other denominational churches in the Chester County area started to attend.
“We are always humbled and honored when fellow Christians in the area make this a part of their Good Friday,” said St. Cecilia parishioner Barbara Larkins, who along with her husband Louis coordinate the event each year.
This year, congregants from Olivet United Methodist Church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church of the Trinity took part in the walk. Invitations were sent to more than 20 other area church communities.
“I come to pray with other Christians,” said Rev. John Carlson, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. “Our common understanding of the faith will help us deal better with the problems in our community.”
The odd-numbered stations are recited in English and the even-numbered in Spanish, with both translations available. Hymns are sung in both languages as participants walk from station to station. Each station is located at a significant place in town, such as the post office, city hall and the home for senior citizens.
Prayers for the local community are added to each station. This year a special prayer for those affected by the arsons was read, in particular for the repose of the soul of St. Stanislaus parishioner Irene Kempest, who died last December as a result of arson.
Coatesville has always been spanerse, originally consisting of Irish, Italian, Polish and Slovak immigrants moving to the area to work at Lukens steel mill. Now, in addition to those European ethnicities, the city has a large African-American and Latino population made up primarily of immigrants from Mexico, Ecuador and Puerto Rico.
“Processions through the streets on Good Friday are a popular devotion in Mexico,” said Comboni Missionary Sister Mercedes Castillo.
In addition to the Coatesville Police Department escort that accompanies the walk, this year Coatesville Fire Department and ambulance corps were present as well.
Father Mulranen said he is pleased that Catholics and Protestants come together each year on Good Friday to commemorate Jesus’ journey to Calvary.
“It is my sincere hope,” he said before the service, “that we will walk and pray the Way of the Cross through our city as a united community of faith in God. We will pray that Jesus’ saving love will bring peace to our fears, healing to our hearts and justice and mercy to those who have brought this pain to our neighborly city.”
George Gregory is a member of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.